Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Btw, said snowman was subject of a front page WSJ article today. The Journal totally missed a chance to create its trademark dot drawing of the snowman, instead settling for the two brothers who filmed it. Ah, once Murdoch completes the deal that will all change ;-)
"Show monkey in a tree. Narrator says, “The monkey, proud and smart, in his native habitat. But one thing he does not have . . .” Show a giraffe. “. . . is a long neck, like the giraffe. Which is why nature has allowed them to combine forces.” Show monkey on giraffe’s neck. (Note: Monkey may have to be tied on.)......"
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Despite my dismissive stance towards unplugging, there are a few rituals that I do maintain. At the top of the list is book reading, an activity that I abstain from anywhere but airplanes and vacation. 95% of the year I'm reading blogs, newspapers and magazines because of the short-attention span theater i have most days. I just can't resort to that "one chapter a night" type of consumption which seems to allow others to more easily integrate books into their everyday lives. I need to jump in and consume - really pay attention by having multiple hours to read - and then to finish within a matter of days. The book needs to envelop me.
And here are the four from this week:
1) Gunshots In My Cook-Up (Selwyn Seyfu Hinds)
> Collection of stories documenting the author's love of, and involvement with, hip-hop culture from his upbringing in Brooklyn through to his days at The Source. Doesn't really hold together an a narrative - more a collection of experiences - which the author admits in the forward.
Does make me really want to meet Russell Simmons though who seems like an understated but confident man. In Russell's words via Seyfu's retelling:
"This is something David Geffen told me. He said, 'You've got to walk along and keep your eyes very close to thr ground. Always looking. Then you'll stumble across someone who can take you and the success you think you have to a completely different level.' That's all I do Selwyn, I look for those people"
2) Feeding a Yen (Calvin Trillin)
> No one blends food, family and friendship together in a way that resonates with me more than Calvin Trillin. Here he celebrates local food in ~20 essays, many from New Yorker and Gourmet magazine.
3) The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon)
> I'm a very very discerning fiction reader because i can tolerate poor writing in an essay but never in a novel. New authors take multiple independent recommendations to counter my reluctance. Chabon has a lifetime exemption with me because Kavalier and Clay is so frickin' good. YPU was definitely enjoyable but a 9.0 to the perfect 10 of K&C.
4) Ponzi's Scheme (Mitchell Zuckoff)
> How one man's love of money and his mother's approval resulted in an amazing confidence game played out before public eyes. It was delusion mixed with greed. And one wonders how many people are driven by this plus need for maternal praise.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Now that they have the framework in place expect to see a bunch more of these launched. Rob's a growth stock - bet on him.
Rob gives some more details on his blog and a peek into their roadmap.
Dave Shen and I met via a mutual friend about a year ago. He's incredibly modest for a guy who worked at Apple, Frog Design and was the 17th employee at Yahoo. Dave's current pursuits involve angel investing and consulting for select startups. He also used to write very persuasive Yelp reviews.
>> how many people were at Yahoo when you started and how did you get connected with the early team?
I was employee number 17 at Yahoo!. I had met Jerry many years prior when he was a sophomore at Stanford and I had just gotten there as a grad student. David I had met a few years later when he arrived at Stanford and both he and Jerry were in the same computer department working on their Ph.Ds. The story is well known that both Jerry and David built Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web which became Yahoo! during their time in the Ph.D program, and late 1994 Jerry called me up to work on their corporate logo for them, which made its official debut in spring of 1995 at Internet World.
>> what was your initial role at Yahoo and how'd this change over time?
I was their first user interface designer, working on all aspects of the GUI from graphics to interaction. In later years, one person became two, and grew to over 120 people in all disciplines of design, ranging from visual design, interaction design, user research, ad design and ad research, as well as the Yahoo! front page ad team. I ran this team as the VP of User Experience and Design until 2003 when I left to briefly be the VP of International Products, and was responsible for the propagation of product development processes and technology worldwide.
>> at what point did you realize Yahoo had legs to be a very serious business?
I think my first realization was when we went IPO, and a huge infusion of cash came into the company which allowed us to grow our team and spread our development into a wide swath of internet products and services. Couple that with the fact that partners and marketers all wanted to be on our system and there seemed to be no end to flow of deals coming in and you realize that it seemed that we could make a lot of money. Once momentum was achieved, we were a brand name, we had loyal users who returned day after day and found our services trusted and useful, and we could monetize that steadily growing amount of traffic.
>> what was your most meaningful contribution(s) to Yahoo's success?
If you talk to Jerry and David, they would say that they have always been user focused from the beginning. This resulted in key decisions like keeping the pages fast and light to load, which resulted in users coming to us for information simply because we minimized the frustration of waiting for pages to load in a modem driven world. My contribution to user experience was to create a process and a discipline around the already present user driven principle, and to bring traditional methods of user centered design into the company so that we could continue to exploit designing to what users want and need. Back then, user centered design had barely hit any of the big companies out there and this was a competitive advantage for Yahoo!, having one of the largest and most talented set of designers all in one place. Building that team and introducing and instilling those concepts into the company was what I would consider my first important contribution.
My second major contribution began in 2001 when the company and the market were down as far as they could be. We needed to revitalize the company and bring in revenue, which seemed to have dried up. I, along with a few others, led the transformation of the ad business at Yahoo! at a time when the 468x60 banner was dying and new formats and initiatives needed to be introduced. I led the implementation of new and more attractive ad units, helped repair relationships with agencies which had been strained through the years prior to 2001, helped the agencies get their ad programs off the ground from a technical standpoint, performed ad research to show the company and the outside world what was annoying and what was not, and worked with industry groups to standardize display ads within and outside Yahoo!. Also, I helped evangelize creativity in advertising and helped marketers and agencies realize that there was great work being done out there, and that they could do the same. In helping with all these initiatives, I am proud to say that for many years, marketers rated Yahoo! as the number one company to work with and helped Yahoo! regain its leadership as a marketing platform of choice, and enabled its revenue to grow during a time when the entire Internet market was in a state of non-growth.
>> did you have any traditions or rituals that helped define the company's culture?
I think it was the no-bozos rule that manifested itself in not only hiring good people, but people like ourselves. We could argue that was a good or bad thing, but certainly it caused the persistence of the culture for many years when everyone you hired could be your best buddy as well.
>> when you look at the Yahoo site(s) today, what do you feel is most similar to the early days, what is most different?
Speaking from a GUI standpoint, I think structurally the pages are still the same. It's either the 2 or 3 column layout, and the old red Yahoo! logo is still up there despite the appearance of the sometimes purple iconic Yahoo! logo. Blue text for links is still there, although people seem to be using less underlines than before. Definitely the richness of the visuals has gone up. Yahoo! used to be a very graphic-less place (due to the need-for-speed during the modem era) but I'm glad to see that Yahoo! has increased its visual impact, now that networks are much faster.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
- Merc writing about Google's campus expansion
Will there soon be a day when our share of office space passes our search market share?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Google Maps launched MyMaps, a neat way to overlay different data directly into your map view on maps.google.com. For example, click here to add a geo display of recent YouTube videos to your map.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Stewart is kinda of like the Godfather of Interactive Entertainment in the Valley. Notable for his Hawaiian shirts, he's always connected somehow to interesting ideas, most recently at Bix before their sale to Yahoo. I met Stewart in 2000 via a mutual friend at Mayfield while Stewart was at There.com.
I was the 19th employee at EA. I was introduced to Trip Hawkins, the founder and CEO, by Brook Byers, a partner in Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. I first met Trip in September of '82. My background at this point was a degree in computer science and 7 years as a salesman at IBM. Trip's background and many of the others had worked with him in marketing at Apple so I was very different from them. After he initially didn't see a fit, I kept coming back to him selling him on the idea of hiring me. Over the course of 6 months he said "no" plenty of times. It was only when I offered to work for free for one month that he said yes. Of course he didn't let me work for free but I am sure he decided that this was the only way to get rid of me.
> what was the first game you worked on and how did the concept come about?
The first product I produced was Music Construction Set for the Apple II. Since I was new in my role as producer, I had to go out and find some products since all of EA's products were created by independent Software Artists (much like music and books) not employees. I attended an Applefest in Anaheim where I saw this cool music product being demonstrated by the Mockingboard company, the first Apple II sound card. When I asked the people there who did the product, they were very guarded and said it was created by a young man in the bay area but they did not want to reveal his name. Bummer because I really loved (and wanted) the product. I had to find that kid but it was going to take some serious sleuthing to find him.
Now we fast forward a couple weeks. The receptionist came into our weekly producer meeting and asked if anyone was available to talk a 15 year-old in the lobby. Everyone looked down and I was the only one eager to meet him. His name was Will Harvey and he was a sophomore in high school.
What he had to show was an interesting, well-executed though abstract (therefore not easily marketed) action game called Lancaster. We talked quite a bit but I politely said we couldn't publish his game. I asked if there is anything else he is working on? He said there was one project where he was in final discussions with another company but he would like to show me anyway.
It was the music product I had seen in Anaheim! He set it up in a corner conference room and he started it playing "Something Dancer", a popular theme song from a movie whose name I can't remember. What you saw on the screen was the sheet music scrolling by but what you heard was 4-part composition that was amazing since the only thing an Apple could do up to this point was beep. I turned up the volume and heads started popping up from their cubes like gophers and looking in our direction. Eventually just about everyone (50 at that point) crowded into the room smiling and laughing. I knew we had a hit!
One of our launch titles was Pinball Construction Set by Bill Budge. It was a WYSIWYG (drag/drop) program for building a pinball machine using the mouse. This product was in the same vein in that you would drag notes onto a music staff and then click on the Piano icon and it would play. We called it Music Construction Set. It was simple, hot and deep which was the phrase Trip coined to describe the kinds of products EA would publish.
Time Magazine ended up doing a one-page story on Will and the product. It ended up selling over 500,000 units at full retail which was insane for a game let alone a music product. Will took all those royalties and went on to get his Ph.D in Computer Sciences. After school he founded There.com and then IMVU.
> as a producer, did think about what you wanted to make or what you thought would sell?
Over the years I worked with or hired some of the most successful producers in the industry. What they all shared was a strong editorial point of view about what was good and bad. This point of view came from personal experience and was always coupled with a skill about communicating what made something good. Hiring people with great product sense and the ability to communicate it was one of the things we did right at EA. We were highly intuitive about our product decisions. There was not a lot of analysis that occurred. There was a separate marketing organization that helped us with the naming, packaging etc. We learned very early on that they, too, had to be avid gameplayers.
It is a simple concept. Hire people with good taste that make stuff they want to play. As long as their taste aligns with popular tastes, we would be successful.
> what was your most meaningful contribution(s) to EA's success?
When I was GM of EA Studios, my job was to deliver an agreed upon number of games on a particular schedule and at high quality. In order to make sure we delivered those products, we had to have more titles in development than we would commit which would give the Producers the freedom to slip some products if they needed more time as long as they could deliver other titles sooner. I was able to change the expectations of the company such that only 70% of the titles in development were committed.
I also encouraged the producers to "kill early and kill often". Entertainment software is a "hope business" as in "I hope all this time and money produces a hit product." Sadly that is not always the case. In fact, the titles most in trouble take the most of everyone's time in an attempt to improve them. Killing a bad project frees up more than its share in time and energy. To encourage people to kill stinkers, I gave each producer a budget for write-offs so they could kill a title and not have the company feel any unplanned financial impact.
> did you have any traditions or rituals that helped define the company's culture?
We had company meetings every Friday at 5. Each exec would give a brief summary of the week's progress with emphasis on particular individual's efforts. Those achievements were recognized with a "Star Achiever" award which was a 3" button that you could stick onto your cube walls and show off like those stickers on football players helmets.
We developed what we called the "Action Values" which were the core values of the company. They were Achievement, Customer Service, Teamwork, Innovation, Ownership and "Now" (as in "Do it now"). Quarterly we gave out awards to individuals who exemplified those values.
We also gave out awards at the Christmas party. There were about a dozen or so categories. First year I received "Most Tenacious" and the "Most Valuable Player" the following year. Along with being voted "Teacher Irritator" in high school, these are my most coveted honors.
> do you see many connections in today's EA to the company you helped start?
When I left, EA was the largest independent publisher of pc and video games. They still are.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Well it looks like Electronic Arts just woke up to the same fact. Their CEO bemoaned that they continued to define 'videogame' as 'high poly count male-oriented console franchise title' as opposed to 'fun and social electronic amusement for the widest audience possible.' Now it's bit them in the butt as they see casual games and virtual environments gnawing at their dominance.
So remember, whatever business you're in, recall what it is that you do for your users and be flexible on how you deliver it.
"There’s been a lot of debate about what killed Backfence, the hyperlocal news site. Was it poor design? Lack of incentives for users to generate content? Bad business model? Maybe all of these contributed.
But what really killed Backfence was Google and Web 1.0."Scott then goes on to display the results of Google queries for local towns and the older but apparently useful (or useful enough) sites that exist today. So will hyperlocal come from a new brand or the extension of an existing one?
My bet is the latter. From somewhere like Craigslist or local newspapers (if they had more guys like Rob Curley @WaPo running the show.
How about Marchex and their 100,000 zip code domains - will this be the true hyperlocal play?
Sunday, July 08, 2007
"...one camper, 8-year-old Dylan Pires, sang his own version of I Believe I Can Fly, and another very small boy pumped out The Wheels on the Bus to his excited camp-mates."
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Pick up a copy and consider it a litmus test -- if you get so psyched when reading it that you literally can't sit still, you just might be a founder :)
While reading I started rocking and bouncing in my seat - not just at their successes but more broadly at the process. It rekindled lots of memories from Second Life. I've had the chance to work closely, or at least meet, about half a dozen of the folks profiles. Each one is crazy in their own special way.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
However, as i recently experienced, if you eloquently explain the circumstances leading up to your missed reservation, they'll strike it from your record. Maybe there's a compassionate human being at OpenTable who just reads excuses and deems them worthy or not. Or of course it could be a "delete_noshow" script attached to the web form that automatically grants absolution.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
- Markus at Plenty of Fish
not exactly, but you get the point
Monday, July 02, 2007
"We put on exclusive shows and the only way to get a ticket is to volunteer," [COO Grady] Lee said. "You can't buy a ticket, you can't win one. You have to go out and earn it."